Through two games, Tulane’s experienced starting pitchers look every bit as good as they were supposed to be.
A day after ace Corey Merrill tossed six shutout innings, senior Alex Massey went one inning longer without allowing a run as the Green Wave beat Illinois 3-0 and clinched their season-opening series.
Massey finished with a flourish, striking out the side in the seventh to notch a career-high eight strikeouts.
“I felt great,” he said. “I had all my pitches working and just pounded the zone.”
Unlike the opener, the Wave (2-0) started out hot at the plate. Stephen Alemais and Jake Rogers led off with hits and scored on Lex Kaplan’s single for a 2-0 lead. Tulane did not get its first RBI on Friday until its dramatic four-run comeback in the 10th inning.
“That’s exactly how you write it up,” said Kaplan, who already has four hits. “I got a good pitch and drove the ball opposite-field.”
The bats cooled down the rest of the way, but second baseman Jake Willsey provided an insurance run in the fourth with his first home run in 268 career at-bats — a wind-aided high fly over the 400-foot sign in deep right-center.
Willsey connected on a pitch from left-hander starter Doug Hayes (0-1).
“He started me off with a fastball and I was taking, and the second pitch he fooled me on a good changeup — but he decided to come back fastball up and in, and I just beat him with it,” Willsey said. “I didn’t know it was out when I hit it, but it went a long way. I got it pretty good.”
Massey (1-0) and reliever Christian Colletti took care of everything else, combining on a five-hit shutout. Massey was not always sharp, but he bore down when it mattered, retiring seven of the eight batters he faced with runners in scoring position, including a double-play grounder to end the sixth.
He pitched out of trouble from the third inning through the sixth, stranding six base runners in that span and recording the final two outs in each with a runner on second.
“He just gave us a chance to win,” coach David Pierce said. “He was really good. That’s what you want to see once you get into a little mess — the ability to keep making pitches.”
Colletti, a transfer from Indian River (Fla.) Community College, did not allow a runner past first as he earned a save in his first appearance for Tulane.
Good defense helped, too. Alemais committed Tulane’s first error of the season with an errant throw from shortstop in the ninth, but he also started a nifty double play, ranging to his right and making a nice stab to start it. Third baseman Hunter Hope fielded a grounder down the line, stepped on the bag and fired across the infield for a second double play.
Kaplan flagged down two fly balls on the warning track in right field.
The day was not perfect, though. Despite getting the leadoff runner on in seven of eight innings, Tulane struggled to get them home. A pair of pop-out bunts on sacrifice attempts from Rogers and Alemais contributed to the problem.
“If we’re going to bunt then we have to get the ball on the ground,” Pierce said. “We can’t afford bunting the ball in the air.”
Still, the positives outweighed the negatives. Illinois lost plenty of talent from last year, but the Illini is coming off a 50-10-1 season in which it won a regional.
“It’s always great to start out 2-0,” Kaplan said. “We’ll come out tomorrow and hopefully get the sweep.”
With senior Emerson Gibbs on the mound Sunday, the Wave likes its chances. If Gibbs allows a run, it will be the first against a starting rotation that returned intact.
“We have one of the best starting staffs in the country,” Willsey said. “They prove it night in and night out. We’ve returned so much talent that there’s not reason not to expect it.”